It appears that whomever talked Aaron Barlow into returning from Chicago to his Fulton County house to run for Georgia’s State Senate told him there would be no math. Either that, or he hopes that voters in the Cherokee and Fulton County district are uninformed or don’t care that he is playing fast and loose with facts about their taxes and State and county budgets. Whether he realizes it or not, the conclusion of what Barlow says is an alternate solution for transportation would have been the continued furloughs of Cherokee County educators.
Barlow’s campaign plan seems to be to raise the ire of Cherokee’s voters by scaring them about MARTA (hint, MARTA doesn’t want to come to Cherokee County any more than Cherokee residents want MARTA tracks in their neighborhood), and more recently, that Senator Brandon Beach gave them a “billion dollar tax hike” (wrong again) that could have been taken from a completely mythical “surplus”. From today’s AJC:
“I’m a conservative Republican trying to get rid of a liberal Republican,” the 41-year-old Barlow tells Kemp. “He’s the one who did the billion-dollar gas tax when we had a state surplus that could pay for the same projects.”
This is a line that at least one Cherokee County Representative that voted against HB 170 has been repeating. A lot.
But repeating a lie over and over again does not make it any more true.
A lie? Strong words. But there is so much willful distortion in Barlow’s claims that a lie is the result.
Let’s break them down. There will be math, and the description is much longer than Barlow’s baseless soundbites. But there are those of us, including Senator Beach, that spent over a year studying both the problem and multiple solutions. Perhaps anyone that wants to buy what Aaron Barlow is selling should at least invest a few minutes for the full explanation. After all, this seat was recently held by a professional con man. There’s no reason for Cherokee or North Fulton residents to elect another one just because he’s slickly telling them what they want to hear. There is no “80% correct picks or your money back” guarantees in life, and definitely not in elections.
Let’s start with the myth that there is a “billion dollar surplus”. When HB 170 was under debate, the proposed budget for the year did show an increase in revenues of roughly a billion dollars. That, alone, does not make a “surplus”. But let’s say it did, and that “surplus” was used to pay for HB 170. What would have been the result? Let’s start with an increase in property taxes and a furlough of Cherokee County teachers.
Why is that? Let’s look first at how the state’s increase in revenues were spent in 2015 for the 2016 fiscal year.
The number of students in Georgia’s schools grow every year, and the state sends each local school board a fixed amount of money for each of their students. As the number grows, so does that expense. Who gets that money? Well, the Cherokee County and Fulton County School Systems, among others. The cost of health care goes up each year. This means that the state has to pay more for employees and retirees health plans, as well as Medicaid. Even though Georgia hasn’t expanded Medicaid, the number of people on Georgia’s Medicaid rolls has gone up 50% in the last decade. Georgia has been making extra payments into its retirement plans for state employees since the recession took away investment value. All of these payments took almost $700 Million of the 2015 “surplus”.
So where did the rest of the money go? It went into local school systems to reduce the amount of “austerity cuts” since the recession, in the amount of $280 Million.
Let’s look at what this “surplus” spending did for Cherokee County Schools. Per School Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo in a June 2015 report to his board, it looked like this:
The $280 Million to restore austerity cuts: $6.5 Million, plus $2.4 Million to offset property tax declines.
The K-12 enrollment increases: 803 new students at $4,677 per student = $3.8 Million
So additional money paid by the state to Cherokee County Schools above what it received for austerity reduced QBE formula was $12.7 Million. What did this mean for Cherokee County per the District’s Superientendent, as stated in his letter to the board?
- Continuation of a full 180-day instructional calendar for students.
- Restoration of full work calendars (i.e., no furlough days) for all School District
- Districtwide reductions in middle and high school class size…through hiring an
additional 48 teachers, with a significant focus on reducing the number of classes
operating near maximum class sizes in Grades 6-12. Accordingly, average class
size will decrease: for Grades 6-8, from 29.7 students to 27.4; and for Grades 9-12,
from 33.1 to 31.5;
- Annual longevity step increases will be provided for eligible teachers and all other
- Three additional Technology Specialists will be hired to provide hardware and
software technical assistance to K-12 teachers and support personnel and to bring
the total staffing allotment in this regard back to pre-recession levels/standards;
- Six additional School Nurses will be employed to expand health-related services to
all high schools;
- School nurse hours will be restored to six and one-half hours (from 6 hours) per
- Seven bus drivers will be added to address student population growth, improve
efficiency and reduce ride time for students;
Aaron Barlow didn’t want to end furlough days. He was OK with larger class sizes. Teacher pay raises? Nah. No new technology specialists nor school nurses. In fact, he’s OK with limited hours for the nurses Cherokee already had. And while he was at it, he was OK squeezing a few more kids on each bus.
Every time you hear Aaron Barlow say we should have used “the surplus” to pay for transportation, he is saying that he was OK that Cherokee County School System employees were being furloughed because the state was underfunding education. Because, he wanted the money Cherokee County received from the state’s “surplus” to be spent fixing roads and bridges.
Or did he? Y’all chew on that, and I’ll be back later with more questions about Barlow’s commitment to fixing transportation…or, anything in Georgia, really.